In Conversation: Earthgang

Clash heads backstage with Wowgr8 and Olu...

Earthgang are on a mission to start their own universe. With live performances that involve communal meditation, pulling volunteers onstage to dance under a spotlight and mass signing sessions once the music has stopped, they create an experience unlike any other.

Combine these with their unique take on Southern rap; blending political lyrics with powerhouse vocals, rumbling trap-infused beats and high-octane choruses, and it’s clear to see Earthgang are doing things in a way that's unique to them.

With three EPs and the debut album 'Mirrorland' under their belt, alongside a handful of compilations with the rest of J.Cole’s Dreamville crew, they seem like an unstoppable force.

Clash caught the duo, made up of Wowgr8 and Olu, at their London show to discuss their genre-defying writing style, redefining what it means to be an Atlanta rapper, and how their extensive touring schedule is helping to spread the message that we are all Earthgang.

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When did music enter your life?

Wowgr8: Falliopian tubes, umbilical cord. I play instruments, I’ve played the trumpet my whole life and my Dad played a bunch of stuff, I come from a musical family.

Olu: My mom used to play in the choir when I was younger, and I used to play the drums, and whenever she was on the keys I would just watch her. She never taught me, she never sat me down or gave me formal lessons but after a while it was like I just love this too much to not experiment at least.

So once that happened, I just got hooked, since then I’ve just been making beats and composing just because I am compulsively obsessed with it. I am obsessed with the idea of learning music theory, why certain chords make you feel a certain way, why progressions can lift your spirit, and there’s no limit to learning.

And you met through high school, what drew you two to each other?

Olu: Yeah, we had a couple of classes together, a couple of the same friends, and he (Wowgr8) was in the band. I would skip class to go down to the band halls and we just synced up through mutual friends.

A couple of teachers saw some potential in us, and they were like you know, we just can’t keep giving you work that’s boring to y’all, so go explore music.

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I read that you would Limewire stuff together, what kind of stuff were you drawn to and what made an impact?

Wowgr8: All Curtis Mayfield’s stuff, a lot of Cool Kids shit, all the Wayne mixtapes, it was a mix like how we are now with shit way before us and shit that was happening.

We always liked both, I think our generation in general, with the internet, we don’t listen to genres like genres, historically genres are based on colour lines and on market separation so they’re not necessary to appreciate music. We came up in a generation where we didn’t need those lines so we listened to everything, like Arctic Monkeys, anything you can get online.

Olu: A lot of Wolfmother, I used to listen to the first Wolfmother album a lot.

Did you always know you wanted to make music together?

Wowgr8: No, I think it was very present-minded thinking, like we both knew we were into making music and we were friends, then after a while it just started happening. By the time other people started recognising us, we were already in the swing of it.

Early days, first years of us doing it, people were like, ‘what kind of name’s Earthgang?’ and, ‘what does that even mean?’ All the kind of stuff you get from your friends because the only people that knew we were doing it were close to us, of course they started seeing that people were into it and started appreciating it for themselves.

Now when I go home, my mom has always got an Earthgang t-shirt on. It’s beautiful to see the evolution of how support around us has grown.

Teachers used to let you make music, do you think that was because of the success of Southern rap predecessors like Goodie Mob, Outkast etc?

Olu: I think it is but both, because Goodie Mob and TLC went to our high school, and band in Atlanta, and in the South especially, has always been a big thing.

I mean, we love music. We love drums as black people, African people love the sound of music, drums and the energy you get when you put a lot of people in one place with the same idea of what to do with that. So that being one thing, and the second being that teachers knew we were smart enough to do the work, but they were like let’s give you something you’re interested in. 

How does Atlanta feed into your writing style?

Olu: Personally, it gives me an outside looking in quality, because I was kind of sheltered growing up because my folks had me on a certain regiment. I didn’t participate in things, like we didn’t get a brick in the Centennial Park, my grandma got a bunch of Olympic t-shirts, and we just don’t have that stuff.

On the other hand, I get to tell a different perspective and shine a light on growing up in Atlanta, and how you get a different story from everybody.

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What’s the biggest misconception about Atlanta’s rap scene?

Wowgr8: I think the biggest misconception is, coming from anyone or a person from Atlanta and speaks colloquialisms from anywhere, is that it’s ignorance. They think that it’s ignorant music, sometimes they get drawn to the bass or caught up in the drums. But if I tell you a story, there’s something you’ll pick up from it. These are real things going on in people's lives and no one is the proper judge of that.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned throughout your time at Dreamville?

Wowgr8: Quality, quality works. You could hit people with a million mixtapes, and look at Atlanta, they drop a mixtape every damn two days, they’re the mixtape capital of the world. A lot of guys I know drop mixtapes every day and it’s good because you get out your name and it’s good to work a lot. But as far as how you package it, and the quality of what you do, it’s better to just go for a legendary vibe than a trendy vibe.

We always had a legendary image of ourselves even coming into this, so it fit to sync up with Dreamville. Understanding the quality and value of performance to go with your shit, like you can’t just hop up on stage, there’s plenty of acts we’ve done shows with and opened up for where they don’t wanna go up after because we value it differently.

How did the concept of the three EPs and one LP come to be?

Olu: We were up in the Dreamvillle house in 2017 and we had been recording a bunch of songs just to get out of Atlanta real quick. It's funny because during that time period, we had recorded 'Tequila', 'Swivel', we started on 'Trippin', that actually made the album, but we also recorded a lot of songs before then. The major consensus was that we can't just jump straight into these songs right now, we have to give people that range from where we've been to where we are now and kind of create this story and give these people those building blocks or those steps.

So that's how it started, but this was when a load of shit was going down in Atlanta. This huge bridge, like an overpass, caught on fire and collapsed. It was like one of the main ways into the city, and they tried to say it was a homeless person smoking under the bridge. I don’t know, I don’t even know how a bridge catches on fire.

We were up in North Carolina like man, I don’t know what’s going on in Atlanta but this is our chance to tell the story of what’s going on there from people who have been there, have lived there and have travelled outside of the city as well. That’s when we came up with the idea of 'Mirrorland' and taking inspiration from Oz to create this world of what Atlanta is to us.

You’ve been sat on some of these songs for a long time, how does it feel now these songs are finally out there?

Olu: It’s cool to see people really connect with them.

Wowgr8: And to connect with these various moments within our lives. Each song is a different moment and to see another person connect with that via this portal of music, there’s nothing like it.

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'Proud Of You', that seems like it’s very close to you… can you talk a little about that and the inspiration behind it?

Olu: Yeah, it’s very much about being proud of your loved ones. It came about while we were on the KOD tour, and each act on the tour was involved on the song. I made the beat through a recommendation, Thug is on it, and the only reason we did the song with him was because Cole was like, ‘come to the studio in New York after the tour,’ so it was all very organic interactions. It's beautiful that music will take a moment that was going on, on tour, and bring it to life for other people to share.

So I wrote it about my mother, Thug wrote it about various women in his life, you know, and we all just decided to just pay homage to people we love, specifically the women in our lives, and kind of just enjoy being happy for people and people be happy for us.

'This Side' takes more of a political stance in a sense as it touches on gang violence, how important is it for you to write socially-conscious songs and do you think enough people are doing it?

Wowgr8: There’s definitely more rappers doing it than whatever media outlets want to acknowledge.There's a lot of artists that are doing it in their own way, in a way that's sometimes more clever than people want to give credit. Sometimes in a way that doesn't seem that clever on the surface, but it actually is because it's a way to make you catch it.

So I think this is being is being spoken a lot, but it is important for us as artists to take inspiration from those types of things. Just to take inspiration from the world around us in general. If you’re an artists and you observe your environment, you can't help but create a picture of what you’re seeing.

How will your approach to creating the next project going to be different from this one?

Olu: I don’t know, I know we’re gonna have a whole load of people reaching out to us.

Wowgr8: Yeah I’m sure there’s gonna be a lot of people that will want to be involved with it, but we’re still recording music, we’ve got all types of stuff that we recorded not that long ago and different instrumentations that we were messing around with before.

I think the key thing for Earthgang is to have a good time with it. Whatever we’re doing, if I’m not pushing like a Willy Wonka-type insanity then what are we doing?

Finally, with regard to your live shows, you’ve described them as a spiritual experience and you seem to be on the road all the time. How do you keep that momentum and constant energy every night?

Olu: It’s the fans.

Wowgr8: It’s definitely reciprocated back and forth.

Olu: Yeah, it’s not just us at shows, we get energy from the fans.

Wowgr8: It’s definitely shared, and honestly adrenaline plays a factor, but at this point we just do it so often that we’re always in that mode.

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'Mirrorland' is out now.

Words: Georgia Evans
Main Photo: Grizz
Live Photography: Simon Chasalow

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